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A Blast From the Past

November 26th, 2009 - 8:45 pm

A Harvard Crimson article from 2003 described what fate befell two Harvard scientists who dared to challenge Global Warming.

A study by two Harvard researchers quietly published last January in a small research journal has set off a political storm that has led to debate on the senate floor and internal wrangling at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The study, co-authored by two scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, concluded that the 20th century has been neither the warmest century of the past millennium nor the one with the most extreme weather.

The two scientists were subsequently excoriated in the strongest terms by Michael Mann and John Holdren, now Barack Obama’s science czar. The Crimson describes the reception they got.

Approximately 5 percent of the study’s funding—about $53,000 in all—came from the American Petroleum Institute, the gas and oil industry’s main trade organization.

Both Soon and Baliunas are paid consultants for the George C. Marshall Institute, a Washington non-profit organization that opposes limits on carbon dioxide emissions.

Four editors have resigned from Climate Research, the small journal that initially published the study. According to The New York Times, even the publisher of the journal, Otto Kinne, has criticized the study.

“I have not stood behind the paper by Soon and Baliunas,” Kinne said, according to the Times. “Indeed: the reviewers failed to detect methodological flaws.” …

Professor Michael Mann of the University of Virginia, who testified before the Senate Committee, denounced the study in an interview yesterday.

“Serious scientists will tell you over and over again that this was a deeply flawed study that should never have been published,” Mann said. “Scientifically this study was considered not even worthy of a response. But because it was used politically, to justify policy changes in the administration, people in my field felt they had to speak out.” …

Harvard professors have also criticized the report.

“My impression is that the critics are right,” said John Holdren, Heinz professor of environmental policy at the Kennedy School of Government. “It’s unfortunate that so much attention is paid to a flawed analysis, but that’s what happens when something happens to support the political climate in Washington.”

Professor Daniel Schrag of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences said that he did not think Soon and Baliunas’ approach to finding a global average temperature was as honest as other approaches.

“The bottom line is that this paper is suggesting that the unusually warm weather we’ve been having for the last 100 years is part of natural variability,” he said. “We have observations to show that that’s not the case.”

What was so blasphemous about their paper? A synopsis of Soon and Baliuna’s study describes what they did.

Cambridge, MA – A review of more than 200 climate studies led by researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has determined that the 20th century is neither the warmest century nor the century with the most extreme weather of the past 1000 years. The review also confirmed that the Medieval Warm Period of 800 to 1300 A.D. and the Little Ice Age of 1300 to 1900 A.D. were worldwide phenomena not limited to the European and North American continents. While 20th century temperatures are much higher than in the Little Ice Age period, many parts of the world show the medieval warmth to be greater than that of the 20th century.

Smithsonian astronomers Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, with co-authors Craig Idso and Sherwood Idso (Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change) and David Legates (Center for Climatic Research, University of Delaware), compiled and examined results from more than 240 research papers published by thousands of researchers over the past four decades. Their report, covering a multitude of geophysical and biological climate indicators, provides a detailed look at climate changes that occurred in different regions around the world over the last 1000 years.

“Many true research advances in reconstructing ancient climates have occurred over the past two decades,” Soon says, “so we felt it was time to pull together a large sample of recent studies from the last 5-10 years and look for patterns of variability and change. In fact, clear patterns did emerge showing that regions worldwide experienced the highs of the Medieval Warm Period and lows of the Little Ice Age, and that 20th century temperatures are generally cooler than during the medieval warmth.”

That conclusion was enough to earn them the opprobrium of Mann and Holdren. Here’s another image from the past; the late Michael Crichton on environmentalism as religion.

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